Hope for the Future: Iraq

According to this recent VOX article, there is hope of recovery for failing states such as Iraq. Iraq, which has been occupied by ISIS in several areas and cities, experienced a recent victory over ISIS: forces pushed ISIS out of the city of Tikrit in March, signaling a key defeat for Iraqi forces.

The defeat is key for a few reasons; first, it inspires hope for future victories over ISIS. According to Beauchamp, “ISIS’s current strategy depends on taking, holding, and governing territory;” the victory in Tikrit is a direct attack on that strategy and demonstrates that it is possible to defeat ISIS on their own territory. Tikrit is also of strategic importance to reaching the city of Musul, currently held by ISIS, and the new victory provides a route to reaching Musul.

Of potentially larger importance, as Iraq is a failed state, is that the victory was a result of not only nongovernmental militias, but also of US backed Iraqi police. Iraqi forces are now effectively involved in the fight against ISIS; Iraq no longer depends on outside organizations for its defense and offensive attacks. Though they are still US backed, the Iraqi government and forces are beginning to act and support themselves to effect change and aid security in their country. As a failing state, this is a large step forward in recovering.

As Beauchamp writes, there are still many difficulties ahead for Iraq; they may have regained the city of Tikrit, but now they must retain it and continue to make advances. ISIS is known to retake liberated areas that are not strongly under control; Iraq must keep Tikrit under their firm control. There is also the issue of resolving the problems that allowed ISIS to advance into Iraq to begin, which were mostly political problems. Iraq has a majority Sunni population, yet the government is controlled by Shias. ISIS, as a Sunni group, has exploited the differences between Iraq’s Sunni population and Shia government to instill greater weakness and insert itself into the state. Iraq’s government must become legitimate to the Sunni population to prevent ISIS from reasserting itself in cities such as Tikrit. To have a lasting victory, the government must be legitimate and functioning, and, as the efforts of the Iraqi police show in Tikrit, this may become a possibility.

While ISIS has exploited the weaknesses and divisions that Iraq has as a failing state, Iraq is slowly proving that with help it can begin to overcome those weaknesses. Failing states pose innumerable problems, but if those problems are approached correctly progress can be made. In Iraq, that means addressing the legitimacy of the government and making sure that it can function independently. For other failing states, the first step towards progress may be different, but Iraq is proof that it is possible for a failing state to begin moving in the direction of recovery and security.

Failing States: Refugee Populations

While maintaining basic internal infrastructure can be a major difficulty in a failed state, the problems faced by a failed state can often affect its neighbors’ security as well. As this BBC article details, Kenya has been hosting Somali refugees since 1991 in the UN’s Dadaab refugee camp. The move to close the camp comes after a group of al-Shabab Somali militants attacked the Kenyan town of Garissa and killed over 100 students. The Kenyan government has suspected in the past that Dadaab was housing some of these Somali militants and are now calling for some 500,000 Somalis to return to Somalia.

This issue demonstrates a few problems: first is that the camp has been open since 1991, and some Somali families have been living there for over 20 years. While the article states that there are now some safe areas within Somalia in which the people can return to, the duration and size of this camp means that, in general, Somalis do not feel that it is safe or beneficial to return to Somalia. As progress is slow in Somalia, strain is placed on Kenya with the large refugee influx.

That strain is also placed on Kenya’s security; as Somali militants attack Kenyan cities and buildings, public fear is stirred against the Somali refugees, regardless of whether the militants actually live in Dadaab. The result is the Kenyan government closing itself off from Somalia in order to protect its people, domestic stability, and safety.

While this may protect Kenyan citizens, the measure creates other problems. First, there is the issue of relocating 500,000 Somalis back to Somalia, which does not have the infrastructure or security necessary to take these citizens back. Citizens returning to Somalia will have to find ways to live, and that could include turning to militant groups and only worsening Somalia’s security problems. Additionally, by isolating itself from Somalia, the already weak Somali government must deal with both security problems and attempt to provide basic needs and security for an additional 500,000 people when it is already incapable of doing so for its current population. This only further weakens the Somalia government and has the potential to draw out the conflict for a monopoly over violence even longer. The effect could be that it takes longer for the failed state to recover.

At the same time, Kenya has the right and duty to protect its own citizens from danger. Somali militants have threatened the safety of its people, and closing off Kenya from Somalis and closing Dadaab is potentially the most obvious solution. Kenya’s primary focus is on securing the country, even if it hurts relations with Somalia, and compares its securitization to the United States’ actions after 9/11. After several attacks, Kenya’s actions are not unfounded.

Somehow reconciliation between Kenyan security and housing a refugee population must be made, but the underlying issue of Somali security must be solved for a long-term solution. The situation demonstrates, though, that failed states are not dangerous just internally for their own citizens; they also pose serious threats to their neighbors that must be considered.

How do we aid?

In light of the question of how Western countries should aid failing states—militarily, monetarily, or primarily humanitarianly—an article from last August 2013 discusses the decision by Doctors Without Borders (DWB) to withdraw from Somalia. The decision to leave Somalia after working there since 1991 came as the result of a series of extreme attacks against DWB that severely jeopardized the safety of the humanitarian aid workers. Since 1991, 16 aid workers have died in Somalia, and the organization has tried to adapt by hiring guards and militant groups. Yet in 2013, the organization reached a point where they could no longer justify the endangerment to aid workers; in 2012 two workers were killed by a former colleague, and in 2013 two more workers were released that had been kidnapped by Somalis. Just after DWB’s announced they were leaving Somalia, a DWB was attacked by al-Shabab militants.

The impact of DWB is larger than the 16 aid workers killed, however; in 2012 the organization “provided more than 624,000 medical consultations, admitted 41,000 patients to hospitals, cared for 30,000 malnourished children, vaccinated 58,600 people and delivered 7,300 babies” and provided about 1,500 local jobs. With the departure of DWB, there is now no one to provide those services as the Somali government is struggling to control violence in the country and cannot administer health services. While the DWB decision to leave Somalia will protect humanitarian aid workers, it also leaves Somalia with a severe gap in basic services that could be harmful to the population.

The question becomes whether it was correct for DWB to leave Somalia for the safety of its workers in exchange for the safety of the Somali population, and whether humanitarian aid was even the right option in Somalia. In many ways, it is not. Humanitarian aid addresses a surface problem in Somalia: a lack of access to health care. Yet healthcare is not the only problem Somalia faces; underlying health care is the inability of the government to control violence in the state, which undoubtedly drains resources and prevents medical care from being a primary focus of the state. How can medical care be of primary focus when the state cannot protect its citizens from daily, life-threatening violence?

Thus organizations like DWB step in and provide humanitarian aid while the state attempts to gain a monopoly over violence. This pattern has been in place for over two decades now, but the state still does not have control over violence. While the process the state is going through is complex and difficult, the pattern of providing humanitarian aid while leaving the conflict to the state has not been working; aid must be directed elsewhere. Specifically, aid needs to have a security focus that addresses the causes of instability in Somalia and not simply the resulting problems caused by instability. It needs to be directed towards stemming violence in Somalia and returning the monopoly over violence to the state. Otherwise, a pattern of reliance on outside aid, such as DWB, could develop that doesn’t really solve anything or make life better for Somalis in the long term.

Blog Audit: Reflections over the last several weeks.

Over the past several weeks my blog posts have evolved from addressing basic, definitional aspects of failed states to addressing specific situations in currently failing states. This is an evolution that I was expecting and, to some degree, had planned on doing. What I did not expect, however, was that even my first two blog posts (Defining the Failed State and High Alert! How effective is the Fragile States Index?) would begin to hint at a recurring theme of complexity.

When I first described a failed state as a state that no longer has defined territory, a monopoly over violence, or sovereignty, I also stated that it is necessary to look at failed states individually because while all failed states fail at least one of the above criteria, internally they are all very different and present different situations. The path that I expected my blog to take was to then explore the histories of currently failing states, including Iraq, Syria, and Somalia, to see how they reached their presently failing status.

What turned out to be more interesting, though, was considering the issues currently surrounding those states and not specifically how they got to that point. In the cases of Syria, Ukraine, and Somalia, I examined how Western states are trying to cope with these failing states and the influence these states have on policy decisions. In Syria and Somalia, Western policies have not worked as expected; US banking policies may actually be helping Somalian pirates rather than hurting them, and, in Syria, Western attempts to provide aid are causing the state to feel more, rather than less, threatened. The crisis in Ukraine has placed Germany in a position where Germans must consider the impact of acting in Ukraine on their own national identity. The analysis of policy impacts on both failing states and the implementing state led to a conclusion common between many of my blog posts: implementing policy in or interacting with a failed state is complex and unpredictable.

It is the difficulty of making policies and predicting their effects that I would like to focus on going forward on this blog and in my research paper. How should Western states respond to crises in failed states? Should they do nothing, provide humanitarian aid, or focus on security? On what interests should they act—Western pro-democratic interests, the citizens of the failed state’s interests, or stability? This topic provides a chance to look at more scenarios in failed states and how policies have worked there, good or bad. As all failed states are different, these questions will likely not yield a specific set of behavior and policy that is ideal, but I think they will provide useful information about what Western states should be cautious of when working with failed states.

Aiding a Failing State

An Al Jazeera article published just over a year ago discusses the difficulties of delivering and administering aid in Syria, an issue that has seen little improvement over the past year.

As of March 2014, over 9.3 million people in Syria needed humanitarian aid; of primary importance were food provisions. Heading the attempted deliveries is the UN World Food Program, which reports progress to the Security Council. Of the 9.3 million in need of aid, 6.5 million people are internally displaced, and 3.5 million are located in hard to reach areas. Yet even for people not living in hard to reach areas, there are many obstacles preventing aid from reaching them.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has placed blame both on the Syrian government and rebel groups for the difficulties: their continued violence and intentional barriers to aid have made it increasingly difficult for aid to reach the civilian population that needs it, despite their pledges to comply with the Security Council and allow the Council access to anyplace that needs aid. Instead, the Syrian government has refused to open additional borders to allow aid to enter, citing an infringement upon their sovereignty, and, in addition to Syrian rebels, ISIS is now blocking access routes as well.

The Syrian government’s argument that opening more borders to UN access decreases Syrian sovereignty is a valid one, yet Syria initially agreed to the condition. Sovereignty has become an issue of contention that is part of a larger problem. As the Syrian rebels and ISIS encroach on the Syrian government’s monopoly on violence, the state loses sovereignty and becomes a failed state. The UN too encroaches on Syrian sovereignty, placing increasing perceived pressure by the government on their attempts to maintain control. It is important to distinguish between the UN and Syrian rebel groups and ISIS though; the UN is attempting to aid Syria’s civilian population and internally make the population more stable, while the violence of rebel groups, ISIS, and the government destabilizes the population. Yet to a failing state, even the UN can appear as a threat.

Despite the obstacles to aid delivery, the US is still attempting to deliver nonlethal assistance to moderate rebel groups, such as vehicles and communication equipment. At the time, they had secured a route through Syria in order to deliver supplies. Despite sending one of the largest shipments ever, though, Syrian rebels doubt that it will make any difference; instead, a change in forces on the ground is necessary in their opinion. But despite this, the US continues to offer nonlethal aid.

A potential problem arises with this US strategy: if the Syrian government views UN humanitarian aid as threatening to Syrian sovereignty, then US nonlethal assistance is blatantly hostile towards the Syrian government. While it may help the cause of the rebels, the maneuver may well decrease the willingness of the Syrian government to allow UN intervention in the form of aid. With the US indirectly affecting Syrian sovereignty and supporting opposition to the government, how can it be likely that the Syrian government will allow another organization such as the UN, in which the US is a member, to also provide assistance within the country, even if the intent is very different?

When interacting with a failed state such as Syria, countries and organizations must be careful to recognize how their actions are perceived within the failed state; providing aid is not simple in a state with three sets of actors vying for control. Instead, there are blocks ranging from concerns over sovereignty to issues of violence preventing distribution that must be recognized and worked around. Otherwise, states and organizations only hinder their own progress.

Lynchpin to Ukraine: Considering foreign and domestic complexities of action

I write this post after an inspiring weekend spent at the 2015 Camden Conference entitled Russia Resurgent. The speakers from American, Russian, Chinese, German, and Bulgarian backgrounds examined Russia’s reassertion of itself in the world. Cutting through the distanced, strategic lens through which people so often see foreign relations were one speaker’s words that stood out amongst the rest: Constanze Stelzenmuller’s.

Russian foreign policy may seem unrelated to failed states, yet through a speech about Russian, German, and Ukrainian interactions, Constanze Stelzenmuller made tangible the importance and impact of failed states in world stability and policy making. As it stands, Ukraine is on the verge of becoming a failed state. The government is in turmoil, its people are divided as rebels and nationalists, the latest ceasefire attempt has seemingly failed, and more land is falling to the Russians each day. A failed Ukraine poses tremendous implications for Europe: decreased regional stability, the potential for anti-Russian sentiment brewing in Ukrainian society, and even the potential for the dissolution of the European Union as its strength is undermined.

Germany has become the lynchpin in this crisis; it is the most powerful European country, having close ties to Russia. It has fallen to Germany to create a framework of negotiations with Russia over the Ukraine crisis. Key to this is the transition period that Stelzenmuller describes Germany as being in. Since 1989 Germany has had a policy of pacifism, stemming from the personal shame and ownership Germans feel for past actions. So now, as the leader in Europe, Germany is faced with the choice of how to deal with Ukraine and Russia. Should they continue with sanctions, provide arms to the Ukrainians, or should they take a massive step and put Germans on the ground, a large divergence from policy over the last 20 years?

A particular point Stelzenmuller raised was the Russian claim that the issues in the Ukrainian government have arisen due to Jewish presence, reviving feelings of anti-Semitism in Russia. Though not Jewish herself, she rightly proclaimed that this is a sentiment the world cannot return to. Ukraine cannot be allowed to fail, and Russia cannot be left as it is; Germany might have to take the next step to militarization that it has avoided for so long.

Constanza Stelzenmuller received the only standing ovation of the event; what she revealed to the audience was the power of emotion. She made the crisis in Ukraine an issue embedded in her German identity; she shared the emotional struggle of Germans on whether and how to act and the connection and responsibility Germany feels for Ukraine. She made a failing state personal and relevant, which can be applied not just to Ukraine, but any other failed state as well. She removed the distance that exists between stable and unstable states. Subordinately, she demonstrated the difficulties of interacting with a failed state; beyond considering the repercussions of an action in the failed state, the implications for the executor must be considered as well. The decision to use force in Ukraine would be a massive change in German policy and change its role in Europe; it is a decision that cannot be made lightly.

I strongly urge you to learn more about the Camden Conference, all of the speakers that attended, and to think about Ukraine from more than just an American perspective.

Somalia: The difficulties of predicting policy impact in a failed state

An article published just yesterday about Somalia, the 2nd most fragile state according to the 2014 Fragile States Index, describes how the country may become more fragile than it already is.  Due to concerns over money laundering, California’s Merchant Bank, the last bank in the US that conducts wire transfers between the US and Somalia, will no longer conduct such transactions.  Ideally, this measure will prevent money laundering to terrorists in Somalia such as al-Shabaab as part of the war on terror; realistically, because of Somalia’s lack of infrastructure (largely due to the fact that Somalia is a failed state with a colonial past), the measures will likely increase rather than decrease terrorism in the region.

About 40% of Somali citizens rely on remittances transferred to Somalia by family members working abroad in order to survive.  Without this money, it is feared that Somalians, especially young males, will turn to new sources of money for survival; mainly, terrorist organizations like al-Shabaab.  The US policy intended to combat terrorism and protect citizens worldwide from terror might just push citizens to join terror groups and grow the threat of global terror.

How, though, has Somalia come to a point where 40% of citizens must rely on remittances from family abroad?  And why are there no banks in Somalia to transfer the remittances that likely do more good than harm?

This BBC timeline shows the highlights of Somalia’s history since the 1860’s.  As you look at the timeline, you might notice something in its first portion: between the 1860’s and 1960, Somalia was occupied by Egypt, France, Britain, and Italy, whose claims often overlapped. These arbitrary and overlapping divisions caused many problems once Somalia gained independence in 1960.  After 1960, the timeline becomes increasingly more complex with border disputes between Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya, assassinated presidents, droughts and famines, tsunamis, warlords as rulers, Islamist and al-Qaeda advances into the region, the emergence of pirates, and constant, widespread violence.

The problem amidst this chaos is the lack of opportunity to create modern infrastructure and for citizens to have stable income sources.  While Somalia has ports that create opportunities for pirates, it never created systems such as the banking system necessary to transfer remittances into the country.  Instead, Somalia must rely on outside banks to make the transfers; outside banks are no longer willing to do so because of US policies aimed at combatting terrorists there.  As a failed state, special consideration must be given to the impacts of external policies.  While it is logical to think that by cutting off money flow, terrorist resources will shrink, in a state with a troubled history and limited modern infrastructure, the policy will hurt citizens and drive them to terror groups.  The outcome could likely be exactly opposite of the one intended.